The Chinese treatment of Tibet has always repelled me and puts an absolute limitation on any admiration I might have for the Communist regime in Beijing – no matter how capitalist and successful they become. It is therefore with feelings of considerable irony I find myself sympathizing with the Chinese over reports of the escalation of jihadi attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan. In the West we have been quite naturally focused on the emergence of the Pakistani Tribal Areas as a safe haven for al Qaeda in relation to Afghanistan.
However, it is important to remember that Pakistan was founded as an Islamic state and was supposed to be run under Islamic law. There has always been a division between secularists and fundamentalists – between the more urban lowlands in the south and the tribal highlands in the north. The recent Red Mosque incident was first and foremost part of this internal conflict. But all along in recent times there has been a Chinese thread running through this internal Pakistani conflict and even a direct connection to the attempt by Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the leader of the Red Mosque, and his followers to impose Sharia law in Islamabad. From a recent London Times report:
One of the incidents that led government forces to lay siege to the Red Mosque was when Islamic extremists from the mosque raided a massage parlour in Islamabad and took hostage seven or eight Chinese women who had been working there, claiming that they were prostitutes and the premises were a brothel.
There has been a sharp increase recently in attacks by Muslim extremists in retaliation for the Red Mosque incident mostly against Pakistani police and army in the Tribal Areas in the north, but one incident in the south appears to be a significant escalation of Islamist violence directed against Chinese nationals. The attack killed 29 Pakistanis and injured many more but failed in its apparent intent to kill Chinese mining technicians. The London Times report opens:
Chinese mineworkers in southern Pakistan were targeted by a suicide bomber today in what is believed to be part of the Islamist backlash which has killed more than 140 people in the last week.
A suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a convoy of police vehicles escorting the Chinese technicians through a busy street in the southern town of Hub.
Previous violence in this area had not involved suicide bombing nor attacks on Chinese.
Today’s attack in Hub is puzzling government security analysts, as it is the first attack since the fall of the Red Mosque to take place in the south of Pakistan. The Government has been facing a nationalist insurgency there, not from Islamic extremists, but from Baluch tribal leaders trying to win more autonomy and a greater share of the wealth from the region’s natural gas resources.
There have been other attacks prior to the Red Mosque incident against Chinese nationals and the Musharraf government has been under pressure from their Chinese allies for some time to put a stop to it. The same Times report gives the background:
Zahid Hussain, Times correspondent in Islamabad, said that the Baluch tribes had never previously resorted to suicide bombings and that the attack appeared to carry the hallmarks of Islamic extremism.
The choice of target also appeared to point to Islamists, Hussain said. Beijing was a close and valued ally of the Pakistan Government, which last year handed back to China one of the leaders of the Muslim insurgency in China who had taken refuge in a Pakistan tribal area.
“It is one possible theory that Islamic extremists in Pakistan are making common cause with the Muslim insurgency in China,” said Hussein. “Otherwise there would seem to be no reason for it.”
It is speculative at this stage but the pattern is a familiar one. The extraordinary religious fanaticism of Muslim extremists causes them to attack their perceived enemies regardless of differences in power. Trying to enforce an alternative legal system in Islamabad a few blocks from the Pakistani seat of government is, if nothing else, an act of supreme arrogance. Likewise, Islamist extremists thought that America would not fight perhaps overly relying on the West’s internal divisions preventing it from fully using its power. I do not think that they can rely on any such restraint from the Chinese who, if their treatment of the Tibetans is any guide, will be brutal and ruthless in their response to jihad directed against them.